More Information, Thank You

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Contradictory consumer demands for food labels are making some food companies re-think their alliance with the industry’s traditional lobbying group. miakievy/Getty Images

Food producers may not all, or always, appreciate how much information consumers want or need, but erring on the side of more in this case makes sense to us. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

For at least the past decade, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has been the unrivaled voice of a vast industry, from neighborhood grocery stores to food manufacturing giants with supply chains that span the globe. Most recently, it’s been a powerful force in fighting proposals to require information about added sugar or GMOs on food labels.

untitled-1_sq-b58cbda94a29b6944b67706c24dcb43ed57e06fb-s400-c85Today, that colossus is teetering and facing questions about its future. Over the past six months, eight of GMA’s largest members have decided to drop their membership. Each defection was quickly revealed on the news site Politico. One industry insider says that he’s seen a list of another three companies that are considering leaving the association.

Although the reasons, in most cases, remain unclear, several of the defections raise questions about whether the food industry is capable of speaking with one voice anymore, as companies respond to contradictory demands from consumers.

The companies leaving the GMA include some very big names indeed. The Campbell Soup Company led the way, followed by Unilever (maker of a vast array of packaged foods, such as Hellman’s mayonnaise), the candy maker Mars, Tyson Foods (America’s biggest meat producer), Nestlé, Dean Foods, Hershey’s, and the grain giant Cargill.

Only Campbell Soup has given specific reasons for leaving the industry group. CEO Denise Morrison told industry analysts last July that Campbell had run into “philosophical differences with many of our peers in the food industry on important issues” such as whether to label GMOs or to quickly adopt the FDA’s expanded nutrition facts labels. In both cases, Campbell Soup broke with most other food companies in adding that information to its product labels. The company has since joined a much smaller group, the Plant Based Food Association.

Other companies have offered no explanation for their departures, or they have issued statements that leave everything to the imagination. Cargill, for instance, announced that it “believes at this time of unprecedented industry change, we can accomplish our business objectives outside GMA.” A spokesman for Dean Foods told The Salt in an email that the company was leaving GMA “so we can prioritize and allocate our limited time and resources elsewhere.”

Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, an industry-funded nonprofit group, says that the exodus reflects, in part, fragmentation in the food industry. “This starts with fundamental changes that are taking place with consumers,” he says. “We’re no longer as monolithic as we once were.”…

Read the whole article here.

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